Editor's note: This article was adapted from a column that the Eyres originally published in The Deseret News
(Richard) was on a plane and happened to be sitting by a distinguished looking fellow who told me that he had been a marriage counselor in England for more than 40 years. In our conversation, he mentioned that during all that time, he had discovered three kinds of marriage that were completely conflict-free.
Interested, I grabbed my pencil and notebook and asked him what they were.
"Well," he said, the first kind of conflict-free marriage is where either the husband or the wife is dead." He obviously had a droll, British sense of humor because he said it with a straight face.
Still, I had hopes for the other two, and he went on.
Domineering vs. Doormat
"The second kind of conflict-free marriage is one in which one of the two parties is totally dominant and domineering and the other is such a doormat that there is never any disagreement. The one just calls all the shots and makes all the decisions and the other one just goes along."
By that point, I couldn't wait to hear what the third type might be.
Marriage of Convenience
"The third kind of conflict-free marriage is getting much more common today," he said. "It is where two people basically have a marriage of convenience, but they live such separate lives, have such separate careers and schedules, that they really don't have anything in common to disagree on or have conflict over."
I didn't know what to say. So I just stared at him, and he hammered home his point.
"I mean it," he said, in all my years of marriage counseling, those are the only three kinds of marriage where there is never a conflict or an argument. So unless you want one of those, you better have some other way of measuring your marriage than some kind of idealistic notion of always agreeing with each other."
We have thought a lot about that little conversation, and have come to the conclusion that the man was right. In fact, we have come to the conclusion that the best way to measure a marriage is not how or how often there is disagreement, but rather how those differences are resolved and how much is learned from them.
As some good friends of ours say, "Communication Break-downs can bring communication break-throughs." Of course, "can" is the operative word. It takes real effort to turn differences into synergy.
But whatever age you are, and whatever age your marriage is, don't be discouraged or dismayed by your occasional disagreements. We often think of a great and wise neighbor of ours who was 95 years old when we asked him the secret to his longevity. He thought for a moment and then said, "Well, way back 65 years ago when my wife and I got married, we promised each other that we would never fight or argue within the walls of our home."
Well, that was interesting. We thought he had missed our question. But just then, with a twinkle in his eye he continued, "That's how I've lived so long — spent so much time in the out of doors!"
So what is the message? Simply that, instead of worrying about disagreeing, we should worry about resolving differences positively. And instead of worrying if our kids see us disagreeing (hopefully not violently or angrily), we should just be sure they see us resolving things and making up.
It's actually a problem when kids think their parents never argue or differ on anything because it gives them unrealistic expectations for their own marriages. It's much better for them to know their parents are each individuals and they sometimes differ, but that they always work things out and learn together.